US20100307116A1 - Multiple-Atmosphere, Nested Food Container - Google Patents

Multiple-Atmosphere, Nested Food Container Download PDF

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Publication number
US20100307116A1
US20100307116A1 US12478428 US47842809A US2010307116A1 US 20100307116 A1 US20100307116 A1 US 20100307116A1 US 12478428 US12478428 US 12478428 US 47842809 A US47842809 A US 47842809A US 2010307116 A1 US2010307116 A1 US 2010307116A1
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Prior art keywords
tray
food
bottom
top
compartments
Prior art date
Legal status (The legal status is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the status listed.)
Abandoned
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US12478428
Inventor
Thad Joseph Fisher
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Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC
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Kraft Foods Group Brands LLC
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    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D51/00Closures not otherwise provided for
    • B65D51/24Closures not otherwise provided for combined or co-operating with auxiliary devices for non-closing purposes
    • B65D51/28Closures not otherwise provided for combined or co-operating with auxiliary devices for non-closing purposes with auxiliary containers for additional articles or materials
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D77/00Packages formed by enclosing articles or materials in preformed containers, e.g. boxes, cartons, sacks or bags
    • B65D77/10Container closures formed after filling
    • B65D77/20Container closures formed after filling by applying separate lids or covers, i.e. flexible membrane or foil-like covers
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65DCONTAINERS FOR STORAGE OR TRANSPORT OF ARTICLES OR MATERIALS, e.g. BAGS, BARRELS, BOTTLES, BOXES, CANS, CARTONS, CRATES, DRUMS, JARS, TANKS, HOPPERS, FORWARDING CONTAINERS; ACCESSORIES, CLOSURES, OR FITTINGS THEREFOR; PACKAGING ELEMENTS; PACKAGES
    • B65D81/00Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents
    • B65D81/18Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents providing specific environment for contents, e.g. temperature above or below ambient
    • B65D81/20Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents providing specific environment for contents, e.g. temperature above or below ambient under vacuum or superatmospheric pressure, or in a special atmosphere, e.g. of inert gas
    • B65D81/2069Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents providing specific environment for contents, e.g. temperature above or below ambient under vacuum or superatmospheric pressure, or in a special atmosphere, e.g. of inert gas in a special atmosphere
    • B65D81/2076Containers, packaging elements, or packages, for contents presenting particular transport or storage problems, or adapted to be used for non-packaging purposes after removal of contents providing specific environment for contents, e.g. temperature above or below ambient under vacuum or superatmospheric pressure, or in a special atmosphere, e.g. of inert gas in a special atmosphere in an at least partially rigid container
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B65CONVEYING; PACKING; STORING; HANDLING THIN OR FILAMENTARY MATERIAL
    • B65BMACHINES, APPARATUS OR DEVICES FOR, OR METHODS OF, PACKAGING ARTICLES OR MATERIALS; UNPACKING
    • B65B31/00Packaging articles or materials under special atmospheric or gaseous conditions; Adding propellants to aerosol containers
    • B65B31/02Filling, closing, or filling and closing, containers or wrappers in chambers maintained under vacuum or superatmospheric pressure or containing a special atmosphere, e.g. of inert gas
    • B65B31/025Filling, closing, or filling and closing, containers or wrappers in chambers maintained under vacuum or superatmospheric pressure or containing a special atmosphere, e.g. of inert gas specially adapted for rigid or semi-rigid containers
    • FMECHANICAL ENGINEERING; LIGHTING; HEATING; WEAPONS; BLASTING
    • F25REFRIGERATION OR COOLING; COMBINED HEATING AND REFRIGERATION SYSTEMS; HEAT PUMP SYSTEMS; MANUFACTURE OR STORAGE OF ICE; LIQUEFACTION SOLIDIFICATION OF GASES
    • F25DREFRIGERATORS; COLD ROOMS; ICE-BOXES; COOLING OR FREEZING APPARATUS NOT COVERED BY ANY OTHER SUBCLASS
    • F25D2303/00Details of devices using other cold materials; Details of devices using cold-storage bodies
    • F25D2303/08Devices using cold storage material, i.e. ice or other freezable liquid
    • F25D2303/084Position of the cold storage material in relationship to a product to be cooled
    • F25D2303/0844Position of the cold storage material in relationship to a product to be cooled above the product

Abstract

A multi-atmosphere, nested food container having an opaque, thermoformed top tray with a modified atmosphere other than air for storing unpackaged, perishable food items therein nested within a transparent, thermoformed bottom tray having a non-modified atmosphere for prepackaged food items. The top tray is sealed with a transparent common air impermeable flexible film to allow for viewing of the food items therethrough. The top tray nests inside of the bottom tray such that a bottom surface of the top tray is placed inside of an opening at the top surface of the bottom tray. This orientation allows for the top tray to remain in a relatively upright position such that the top surface of the top tray remains visible to consumers.

Description

    FIELD
  • This application generally relates to a multiple-atmosphere, nested food container for enclosing food items therein, and, in particular, a multiple-atmosphere, nested food container that comprises a food tray having an atmosphere filled with a gas other than air for packaging perishable food items therein and nested within another tray having a different atmosphere.
  • BACKGROUND
  • Food packages are known to comprise multiple compartments within a single main tray. Multiple trays may also be used and packaged together, each tray having a different food component therewithin and at least one tray may have multiple compartments. When food packages are sold to consumers, it is often preferred that some portion of the package be clear or partially transparent so that the food product within can be visible to the consumer.
  • However, when multiple trays are packaged together they each can often have their own closure film or lid. This entails extra material within the package, as well as an extra piece of packaging to be removed by the consumer, and an additional manufacturing step when packaging the food. Furthermore, where it is desired to package two trays together in a snap-fit manner, they are often placed in a “face-to-face” orientation, such that each tray is separately sealed at its opening at which the trays are in contact. Therefore, when the outside perimeter of the assembled package is viewed, whether it is from the top or bottom, only the outside bottom surface of the trays are visible. If the trays are relatively clear or transparent, the food packaged therein may be visible. However, the food is typically packaged such that the bottom or back of the food product rests adjacent to the bottom of the tray with the film seal or lid placed over the top of the food product. Thus, when the trays are placed in face to face contact, the top of the food products are hidden from view within the interior of the package leaving only the bottom of the food product visible through the package.
  • This face to face orientation does not provide a proper view of the food product to the consumer. Many times a consumer makes the decision to purchase a packaged food product based upon its appearance in the package. If the consumer is not able to see the front or top side of the food product, which is typically also the side viewed when eating, the consumer may be hesitant to purchase the product thinking that perhaps what they cannot see is not good.
  • To somewhat alleviate this problem, an all clear tray and lidding film have been employed to seal the openings of the trays. This permits a consumer to look through the bottom-end of a the top tray compartment, i.e., the bottom end is on top when packaged in a face to face orientation, through the lidding film of both trays, and into the bottom tray compartment to see the top surface of the food product in the bottom tray compartment. However, the top tray still only displays the bottom surface of the food product due to the face to face orientation of the two trays, thus hiding the top surface from view.
  • Nesting of compartment trays within each other has been employed where both trays can be oriented in the same direction, with one inside the other. For instance, the top compartment tray will remain in an upright position and can nest or be placed into the bottom compartment tray. However, these nested trays either share a common cover or lid, or the top tray is used as a cover for the bottom tray. In both instances, neither is packaged in a separate modified atmosphere, rather both the top and bottom are packaged in similar atmospheres. Thus, packaging food products together that have differing shelf-life requirements in nested packages often requires that the food products be packaged in the same environment. Thus, if a perishable food is present, then the non-perishable food must also be packaged under the same conditions as is required for maintaining the perishable food. This proves a waste of resources if not needed for non-perishable or prepackaged items, as well as the non-perishable food item taking up space in the package that could be used by another perishable food product.
  • SUMMARY
  • A multiple-atmosphere, nested food container or package having at least one tray packaged in a modified atmosphere environment and at least one tray is not, is provided. This type of multi-atmosphere food container allows for improved shelf appearance for differing shelf-life food products and frontal product visibility through the trays to allow consumers clear visibility of the unpackaged, perishable food items. This type of container further allows packaging food products together that would not be obvious to package due to having different shelf lives, such as a cheese product and a dessert bar. The multi-atmosphere, nested food container is provided having an opaque, thermoformed top tray nested within a transparent, thermoformed bottom tray, the top tray comprising multiple compartments sealed with a transparent common, air impermeable flexible film while packaged in a modified atmosphere (“MAP”). The bottom tray is not MAP-sealed. The top tray further contains perishable food items that are not prepackaged or wrapped before placement into the compartments. The bottom tray does contain prepackaged food items and can optionally include non-food items, such as eating utensils.
  • The top tray is nested within the bottom tray in an upright position such that the bottom surface of the top tray is placed into the bottom tray at an upper opening thereat. Thus the top surface of the top tray remains visible and in a face-forward orientation. This orientation avoids a face to face positioning of the two trays, ensuring that the top of the food products remains visible.
  • Food packaged within the multi-atmosphere, nested food container allows for packaging foods together that have differing shelf lives and that may not have been obvious to package in the same container. For instance, packaging a perishable food item with a non-perishable food item, where both would be packaged in its separate required atmosphere, is provided with the multi-atmosphere, nested container. Furthermore, the food container disclosed herein allows for the top tray to face forward when nested in the bottom tray, so that the perishable foods can be viewed from their upper surface, or the surface visible when eating. This allows for improved product presentation because the consumer can see the top surface of the food they are getting and can be confident in the quality of that food. This container also allows for improved shelf appearance of the food products therein because the products can be packaged in their appropriate atmospheres to maintain their freshness qualities and attractive appearance. Since the bottom tray is also transparent, the consumer can also view the contents of the bottom tray.
  • Additionally, less packaging material is required since the lid or cover to the bottom tray is simply the top tray itself. This further provides for less manufacturing steps since each tray does not need to be separately sealed.
  • BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • FIG. 1 is a perspective view of a multi-atmosphere, nested food container;
  • FIG. 2 is a cross-sectional view of the container of FIG. 1, taken along the line 2-2;
  • FIG. 3 is an exploded view of the container of FIG. 1;
  • FIG. 4A is a top plan view of a top tray of the container of FIG. 1;
  • FIG. 4B is a bottom plan view of the top tray of FIG. 4A;
  • FIG. 5 is a top plan view of a bottom tray of the container of FIG. 1;
  • FIG. 6 is a perspective view of a fully assembled multi-atmosphere, nested food container;
  • FIG. 7 is a perspective view of a second embodiment of a multi-atmosphere, nested food container;
  • FIG. 8 is a cross-sectional view of the container of FIG. 7, taken along the line 8-8;
  • FIG. 9 is an exploded view of the container of FIG. 7;
  • FIG. 10 is a top plan view of a top tray of the container of FIG. 7;
  • FIG. 11 is a top plan view of a bottom tray of the container of FIG. 7;
  • FIG. 12 is a perspective view of a fully assembled multi-atmosphere, nested food container of the second embodiment; and
  • FIG. 13 is a top plan view of a third embodiment of a top tray of a multi-atmosphere, nested food container.
  • DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
  • A multiple-atmosphere, nested food container is provided with a food tray packaged in a modified atmosphere and hermetically sealed, and nested inside of another food tray, as illustrated in FIGS. 1-13. The food package or container can have a top tray and a bottom tray, where the top tray can contain multiple compartments for receiving unpackaged, perishable food. The top tray can be covered with a common transparent flexible film that hermetically seals the food items therein. The top tray can further contain a modified atmosphere comprising a gas other than air that is maintained in the compartments once the flexible film is placed thereon. The bottom tray can contain a main compartment for receiving prepackaged food and/or non-food items therein. Since the food items are prepackaged, the bottom tray does not need to be sealed with film or filled with a modified atmosphere. The top tray can provide a closure for the compartment of the bottom tray by snapping into the opening of the bottom tray. FIGS. 1-6 represent a first aspect of the food container with a first design of the top and bottom trays. FIGS. 7-12 represent a second aspect of the food container with a second design of the top and bottom trays. FIG. 13 represents a third design of the top tray. All different tray components can be interchangeable with one another.
  • Turning to FIG. 1, a first embodiment of a food container 10 is shown in its assembled form. The food container 10 has an opaque, thermoformed top tray 12 and a transparent, thermoformed bottom tray 14, the top tray 12 insertable into the bottom tray 14, and further comprising a transparent common, air impermeable flexible film 16 placed over the top surface of the top tray 12 and forming a hermetic seal over the top tray 12. The top tray 12 can comprise a plurality of openings or compartments for receiving food directly therein. The food items placed in the top tray compartments do not need to be prepackaged since they are sealed with the common flexible film to preserve the food's freshness, to be discussed in more detail herein.
  • The top tray 12 can comprise at least two compartments, or as shown in FIGS. 1-6, can have at least six compartments 18 a to 22 b in one aspect of the food container 10. The compartments can have any shape, such as square, rectangular, any rectilinear shape, or circular, to name a few, and can be oriented in any manner, such as similarly shaped pairs arranged in a column or multiple single compartments arranged randomly and having different shapes. In another aspect, a top tray 212 can comprise only two compartments, as shown in FIG. 13. Both compartments can be shaped differently from each other, with one being generally circular and the other generally rectilinear. In yet another aspect, the top tray 121 can comprise three compartments, as shown in FIG. 7. Each compartment can again have a different shape from the other compartments, with one being generally circular and the other two having a generally curved rectilinear compartment. However, any number of compartments can be provided on the top tray and in any shape or configuration.
  • As can be seen from FIG. 4A, the top tray 12 can have at least three pairs of food compartments, for a total of six compartments, with each pair comprising similarly shaped compartments. A first compartment pair 18 a and 18 b can each have a generally square shape with similar dimensions. A second compartment pair 20 a and 20 b can also have a generally square shape and a third compartment pair 22 a and 22 b can have a generally rectangular shape with similar dimensions. However, any shape compartments may be provided and the compartment pairs do not need to all be similarly shaped and sized.
  • Various food items can be placed directly into the desired compartments 18 a to 22 b of the top tray 12 without requiring the food items to be prepackaged, and can be covered with a common air impermeable flexible film layer 16. The flexible film 16 can be affixed to the top tray 12 to hermetically seal the openings to each compartment 18 a to 22 b. The flexible film 16 can further be provided as a clear or transparent film to allow viewing therethrough of the food items in their respective compartments 18 a to 22 b such that the contents or interiors of the separate compartments are each visible from an upper surface 30 of the food container 10 through the flexible film 16. The flexible film layer 16 can be sealed to a portion of an uppermost generally planar flange 54 surrounding the periphery of the top tray 12 at an upper surface 30 of the top tray 12 to hermetically seal each of the compartments, as shown in FIG. 3. The planar flange 54 can surround a plurality of the openings or compartments of the top tray 12 and can surround a periphery of the tray 12. The flexible film 16 can maintain the shelf-life of the food items thus preserving the food items' freshness. The flexible film 16 can further be a peelable seal, such that it can be removed easily from the top tray 12 without cutting.
  • Furthermore, as the flexible film 16 is being sealed to the top tray 12, the food compartments 18 a to 22 b can relatively simultaneously be flushed and/or filled with a modified atmosphere gas other than air to provide a packaging environment that can also extend the shelf-life of the food items and help the food items maintain a desirable appearance during retail display. Such a packaging environment may include a modified atmosphere package (“MAP”) that includes, without limitation, atmospheres comprising oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and combinations thereof. In one aspect, the modified atmosphere environment may comprise a mixture of gases comprising about 25% carbon dioxide (CO2) and about 75% nitrogen (N2). In general, the modified atmosphere can contain about 70% to about 85% nitrogen, and preferably the balance can be carbon dioxide.
  • The top tray 12 can also have a vertical flange 56 depending from the planar flange 54 and generally extending about the entire perimeter of the top tray 12. The vertical flange 56 can further terminate in a horizontal flange portion 58. These flange portions can cooperate with similarly situated flange portions of the bottom tray 14 when in the closed configuration to provide a closed container 10, to be discussed in further detail herein below.
  • Each compartment of the top tray 12 can have a depending sidewall and a bottom wall, as seen in FIGS. 1 and 2, with an opening opposite the bottom wall and defining an interior for containing discrete, unpackaged perishable food items directly therein. Any variation on the number of sidewalls can be provided and typically four upstanding sidewalls are provided when the compartment has a generally rectilinear shape, as in FIG. 1. If the compartment has a generally circular shape it can have at least one upstanding sidewall, or at least two upstanding sidewalls. In one aspect, compartment 20 b has a bottom wall 34 and three upstanding sidewalls 40 a, 40 b and 40 c and one partial upstanding sidewall having sidewall portions 40 d and 40 d′ adjacent to compartment 20 a. The partial upstanding sidewall 40 d and 40 d′ can be divided by an optional notch or depression 44 positioned between compartments 20 a and 20 b in a common sidewall. The notch 44 can be used as a finger insert that allows the consumer to insert a finger or other removal means or tool to assist in removal of the food item therein. Thus, at least two of the six total compartments can have this common depressed sidewall that provides for a finger insert or other removal tool.
  • Another pair of compartments 22 a and 22 b can also contain a bottom wall with four upstanding sidewalls. For instance, compartment 22 b has a bottom wall 36 and four upstanding sidewalls 42 a, 42 b, 42 c and 42 d. Sidewall 42 a can similarly contain an optional finger insert in the form of a recess or an indentation 46. The indentation 46 can span a portion of the sidewall 42 a, such that it can span at least enough of a distance to allow a consumer access to the interior of the compartment 22 b to make removal of the food item easier. In one aspect, the indentation 46 can be positioned at about a midpoint of the sidewall 42 a and can make up about ⅓ of the length of the sidewall 42 a. Similarly, compartment 22 a also can contain an optional indentation 48 in its sidewall 42 a′.
  • The final pair of compartments 18 a and 18 b can have a multi-level bottom wall due to a raised portion 26 in the bottom of each compartment 18 a and 18 b. The raised portion 26 at the bottom interior of the compartment 18 a or 18 b can be provided to allow a smaller height food item or stack to be packaged and stored therein and still be at the same final height as food items in adjacent compartments 20 a, 20 b, 22 a and 22 b. The food compartments 18 a to 22 b can each have a similar depth compartment. It is further desired that the food items are placed in the food compartments at the same visible elevation, such that the top surface of the uppermost food item can be viewed from the top of the tray. The food items preferably are packaged such that the uppermost food item is almost flush with the top surface 30 of the top tray 12. All of the food items are preferably placed in their respective compartments at approximately the same height. Where the food item or stack of food items is not tall enough, the bottom wall 32 of the food compartment 18 a and 18 b can contain raised portion 26 for supporting food thereon, which can slightly elevate the food therein to a height that is generally equivalent to the height of the other food items in the adjacent compartments, and above a bottommost portion of the bottom wall 32.
  • The raised portion 26 can be present in one compartment, more than one, or all, however, the presence of a raised portion 26 within the compartments is optional and does not need to be present at all. The use of a raised portion 26 can be dependant upon the food item to be stored therein and whether or not the food item will be tall enough to be substantially fully viewed from its upper surface when placed in the compartment. In one aspect, compartment 18 b, as shown in FIG. 2, can have a bottom wall 32 that has three portions 32 a, 32 b and 32 c. The middle portion 32 b of the bottom wall 32 can form the raised portion 26 within the interior of the compartment 18 b, and the two outer portions of the bottom wall 32 a and 32 c can be flush with the other bottom walls 34 and 36 of the outer compartments. The compartment 18 b also can have four upstanding sidewalls 38 a, 38 b, 38 c and 38 d. Along a portion of sidewall 38 b a finger insert can be provided, such as an indentation 50, similar to the indentations 46 or 48 at compartments 22 a and 22 b. Likewise, compartment 18 a can also have an indentation 52 in a portion of its sidewall 38 b′. Thus, at least one compartment, and preferably all, can contain a recess or notch for inserting a finger or other removal tool therein to provide for easier removal of the food item stored in the compartment.
  • The bottom tray 14 can comprise a bottom wall 62 and a peripheral sidewall extending upwardly from the bottom wall 62. In one aspect, the bottom wall 62 can have four upstanding sidewalls 64 a, 64 b, 64 c and 64 d, as shown in FIG. 5. Opposite the bottom wall 62, there can be an open end 66 surrounded by an uppermost peripheral rim 68 at an upper end of the sidewalls 64. The sidewall and bottom wall can define an interior 24 of the bottom tray 14, which can be filled with prepackaged food items or non-food items, such as plastic eating utensils, napkins, and the like, in a non-modified atmosphere. The bottom tray 14 does not need to be hermetically sealed and/or MAP-sealed due to the food items therein already being prepackaged. Thus, the opening 66 of the bottom tray 14 does not need to be sealed with a film or other air-tight seal, rather a lid or other enclosure can be used to close the interior 24 of the bottom tray 14 to prevent the contents therein from spilling out.
  • The peripheral rim 68 of the bottom tray 14 has a vertical flange portion 70 that depends therefrom and generally extends about the entire perimeter of the opening 66 of the bottom tray 14. The vertical flange portion 70 can terminate in a horizontal flange portion 72. The vertical flange portion 70 can contact the vertical flange portion 56 of the top tray when the container 10 is placed in a closed configuration. Similarly, the respective horizontal flange portions 58 and 72 can also contact one another upon closing.
  • To place the container 10 in a closed configuration, the sealed top tray 12 can be inserted into the bottom tray 14 in an upright position such that the top tray 12 can nest just inside a portion of the interior 24 of the bottom tray 14 to provide a durable enclosure that covers the opening 66 of the bottom tray 14 and can act as a lid for the bottom tray 14. The top tray 12 can snap into the bottom tray 14 while in an upright position, with the top surface 30 of the top tray 12 facing outward and fully visible when displayed. The upright position of the top tray 12 is achieved by inserting a bottom surface of the top tray 12 into the opening 66 at the top surface of the bottom tray 14, such that a portion of the flange 54 surrounding the periphery of the top tray 12 rests on the peripheral rim 68 surrounding the opening 66 of the bottom tray 14. The term “upright position” refers to the top surface 30 of the top tray 12 being visible in relation to the bottom tray 14, such that the top surface 30 faces forward. It is to be understood that the closed and fully assembled container 10 can be displayed on its side, or in any other manner, yet the top surface will still remain visible and can be considered to be in an “upright position” in relation to the bottom tray 14. When the container 10 is closed, the underside of the planar flange 54 can be adjacent the top surface of the peripheral rim 68 of the bottom tray 14. Similarly, the underside of the vertical flange 56 and horizontal flange 58 of the top tray 12 can be adjacent to the vertical flange 70 and horizontal flange 72, respectively, of the bottom tray 14.
  • In order to achieve a snap-fit of the top tray 12 over the bottom tray 14, as well as an audible snapping sound, the top and bottom trays 12 and 14 can have elastic engagement of their respective edge. This can be provided by a rib and groove pair positioned in at least one corner of the container 10, and preferably one in each corner of the container 10, that cooperate to fit the top tray 12 and bottom tray 14 together. In one aspect, there can be a groove 80 and 81 in each corner 82 and 83 of the bottom tray 14. These grooves 80 and 81 can be positioned along a portion of the vertical flange 70 that cooperate with corresponding ribs 84 and 85, respectively, positioned on the top tray 12 along a portion of the vertical flange 56 in corners 86 and 87, respectively, on the underside thereof, as seen in FIG. 4B. The large grooves 80 can be positioned in opposite corners 82 adjacent an optional tab extension 74. These large grooves 80 can be larger in size than the small grooves 81 in adjacent corners 83, and can have a larger size and length indent due to being positioned adjacent the tab extensions 74. As the ribs 84 and 85 from the top tray 12 slide over and into their respective grooves 80 or 81, at a minimum the corners 86 and 87 of the top tray 12 can deform and snap back into place, snapping into their respective groove 80 or 81. The food container 10 can have a rib 84 or 85 and corresponding groove 80 or 81 in each of its four corners, however, less than that number can be supplied and at least one of each can be provided. Alternatively, the opposite configuration may also be provided where the ribs are located on the bottom tray 14 and the grooves are located on the top tray 12.
  • The items located inside the interior 24 of the bottom tray 14 can be arranged at a height that does not interfere with the underside of the bottom walls 32, 34, and 36 of the top tray 12 when placed over the opening 66 of the bottom tray 14. Depending on what the depth of the top tray 12 compartments 18 a to 22 d are, the items packaged in the interior 24 of the bottom tray 14 should be packaged at least this distance below the top flange 68 of the bottom tray 14.
  • FIGS. 7-12 illustrate another aspect of the food container. FIG. 7 shows a food container 100 comprising a top tray 121 and a bottom tray 141. The top tray 121 can contain three compartments 102, 104, and 106 in the aspect shown. The three compartments 102, 104, and 106 can all be shaped or sized differently from one another. At least one compartment can have a generally circular side. In one aspect, a first compartment 102 can be sized generally circular, with a bottom wall 132 and at least two upstanding sidewalls. The first compartment 102 can also be the largest sized compartment for storing a large food item or items. The next largest compartment 104 can be generally rectilinear in shape with generally rounded edges. The compartment 104 can have a bottom wall 134 and four upstanding sidewalls. The last compartment 106 can be the smallest sized compartment and it can generally comprise a parallelogram shape. The compartment 106 can have a bottom wall 136 and four upstanding sidewalls.
  • The top tray 121 can have compartments at a similar depth as those of the previous container 10, however, raised portions at the bottom of the compartments do not need to be provided. Alternatively, the raised portions may be provided where the food item stored therein is small in height and needs an increased display height in order to reach the same display height of adjacent food items. Additionally, the compartments 102, 104 and 106 are shown without indentations or notches therein for a finger or other removal tool to be inserted, however, this feature may optionally be provided in one or more of the compartments.
  • The bottom tray 141 can be similarly sized and shaped as the bottom tray 14 in the previous embodiment. The outer surface of the bottom tray 141 can have a different ribbing design along its sidewalls and a portion of its bottom wall 132 than the previous bottom tray 14, as shown in FIG. 7, can be the same, or it may not contain any ribbing at all. All of the remaining aspects of the food container 100 are the same as the food container 10 previously described. Similarly labeled reference numerals relate to the same features in both.
  • Another aspect is shown, in FIG. 13, where the top tray 212 can comprise two compartments 202 and 204. The compartments 202 and 204 are both sized larger than if there were more than two compartments provided. This allows for storing larger sized food items. The top tray 212 can likewise snap and fit into the bottom tray 14 or 141 of the previous embodiments. A flexible film 16 is sealed over the planar flange 254 of the top tray 212 to enclose the food items directly stored within the compartments 202 and 204. The bottom tray can contain prepackaged food and/or non-food items, as previously discussed.
  • The top tray 12, 121 or 212 and bottom tray 14 or 141 can both optionally contain a tab extension 60 and 74, respectively, at one or two opposing corners 82 and 86 of the food container 10. These tab extensions 60 and 74 can assist in opening the food container 10. The consumer can grasp the tab extension 60 located at the corner 86 of the top tray 12 and apply an upward force to separate the tab extension 60 from the tab extension 74 below it, in an effort to remove the top tray 12 from the bottom tray 14. Furthermore, an optional raised protuberance 88, such as a half circle, can be provided on the upper surface of the tab extension 74 on the bottom tray 14. This raised protuberance 88 can aid in separating the tab extension 60 from the lower tab extension 74 by keeping a slight space between the two, and allow easier grasping of the upper tab extension 60 upon removal of the top tray 12.
  • Furthermore, where the top and bottom trays 12 and 14 contain tab extensions 60 and 74, respectively, the compartments 18 a and 22 b in the top tray 12 adjacent the tab extensions 60 can have a curved corner edge, as can be seen in FIG. 4. For instance, the first compartment 18 a has a generally rectilinear shape that is similar to the adjacent generally rectilinear compartment 18 b. The only difference being between the two compartments 18 a and 18 b is that of the shape of the first compartment 18 a, which has one corner edge of its rectilinear compartment 18 a curved rather than meeting at a generally 90 degree angle, as in the adjacent compartment 18 b. Compartments 22 a and 22 b are similarly configured with a corner of compartment 22 b having one rounded corner adjacent the tab extensions 60 and 74.
  • The food container 10 or 100 can also optionally contain a paperboard sleeve 28 that extends and wraps around the top tray 12, 121, or 212 and the bottom tray 14 or 141 when in the closed configuration, as shown in FIGS. 6 and 12. The sleeve 28 can hold the trays together against unintentional separation until removal of the sleeve 28. The sleeve 28 can also contain a tear strip 76 for easy removal of the sleeve 28 without requiring cutting or tearing through the sleeve 28. The tear strip 76 can have a tab 78 at one end for grasping, which the consumer can use to pull along the tear strip 76 to separate the sleeve 28 at scored lines of the tear strip 76. Optionally, the sleeve 28 can also contain writing or graphics printed on it.
  • Still optionally, the sleeve 28 can be adhered to a portion of the food container 10 or 100 to ensure that the sleeve 28 cannot slide off of the container 10 or 100 or be removed unintentionally. Thus, an underside of the sleeve 28 can be glued or adhered to a portion of the container 10, such as a small section of the bottom tray 14 or 141. The sleeve 28 remaining intact helps to ensure that the top and bottom trays remain together.
  • The top and bottom trays 12, 121 or 212 and 14 or 141 may be thermoformed trays made from a rigid material. The term “rigid” is used herein to indicate that the structures made of these materials have the ability to generally retain their respective shapes during normal handling, such as polyester, polypropylene, high impact polystyrene, high density polyethylene, amorphous polyethylene terephthalate, or a combination thereof. The bottom tray 14 or 141 can preferably be made from a transparent or translucent material such that the contents therein can be viewed by the consumer when looking through the bottom tray 14 or 141 when the container 10 or 100 is in the closed configuration. However, the top tray 12, 121 or 212 does not need to also be transparent. The top tray 12, 121 or 212 can comprise a non-transparent material, a colored material, or it can be transparent. The top tray 12, 121 or 212 can comprise an oxygen barrier material, such as high impact polystyrene (“HIPS”). The top tray can have an oxygen transmission rate of about 0.2 to about 0.4 cc/100 in2/24 h at a temperature of about 73° F. The bottom tray 14 or 141 can comprise a non-barrier material, such as amorphous polyethylene terephthalate (“APET”).
  • The air impermeable flexible film 16 that seals the top tray 12, 121 or 212 can comprise a transparent film to permit viewing therethrough of the food items within their respective compartments. The material of construction of the flexible film 16 may be polyethylene, polyethylene terephthalate, ethylene vinyl alcohol, ethylene vinyl acetate, polyester, polyolefin, polypropylene or a combination thereof. In one aspect, a flexible film 16 is provided comprising polyethylene terephthalate coextruded with a combination of polyethylene, ethylene vinyl alcohol and ethylene vinyl acetate. The flexible film 16 can preferably comprise an oxygen barrier film material, such that the food items sealed within the compartments of the top tray 12, 121, or 212 are hermetically sealed therein. The flexible film material used may have a barrier layer added to it that keeps out oxygen, has an antifog feature, and provides for easy open of the flexible film 16 from the top tray peripheral flange 54, 154, or 254. The flexible film 16 can be heat sealed to the top tray peripheral flange 54, 154 or 254 or any similar method of adhering the flexible film 16 to the top tray may be used.
  • Typical overall dimensions of the container 10 or 100 can comprise a length and width of about 5 inches to about 10 inches in length and of about 4.5 inches to about 6.5 inches in width. The length and width of the top and bottom trays should be similarly sized so that the two trays can fit together snugly when placed in the closed configuration. The dimensions of the container 10 or 100 are provided such that various sizes can be accommodated. For instance, it may be desirable to size the container 10 or 100 so that it can hold a pizza snack product, or in another instance, a cracker snack product, where both may require a different depth tray.
  • The bottom and top trays can have a length from about 5 inches to about 10 inches, and in particular, a length of about 7 inches to about 9 inches. The width of the two trays can be from about 4.5 inches to about 6.5 inches, and in particular, a width between about 5 inches and 6 inches.
  • A depth of the bottom tray compartment can be from about 2 inches to about 3.5 inches, and in particular, from about 2.5 inches to about 3 inches deep. A depth of the top tray compartments can be from about 0.5 inches to about 2 inches deep, and in particular, from about 0.5 inches to about 1 inch deep.
  • In one aspect, as shown in FIGS. 1-6, the container 10 can have similar dimensions of length and width for both the top and bottom trays 12 and 14 comprising about 7.7 inches in length and about 5.2 inches in width. The top tray 12 can have compartment depths of about 0.7 inches deep, and the bottom tray 14 can have a compartment depth of about 2.6 inches deep. In another aspect, as shown in FIGS. 7-12, the top tray 121 can have compartment depths of about 0.9 inches deep, and the bottom tray compartment 141 can have a depth of about 2.8 inches deep.
  • The thickness of the bottom tray 14 or 141 can be about 15 mil to about 25 mil, and in particular, about 22 mil. The thickness of the top tray 12, 121 or 212 can be about 4 mil to about 16 mil, and in particular, about 4 mil after the tray has been formed. The thickness of the flexible film 16 can be about 0.5 mil to about 2 mil, and in particular, about 1.5 mil.
  • The paperboard sleeve 28 can comprise a solid bleached sulfate paperboard material that is not transparent. The sleeve 28 can have a length of about 4 inches to about 5 inches, and in particular, about 4.5 inches. The width of the sleeve 28 can be about 4.5 inches to about 6 inches, and in particular, about 5.3 inches. The length and width of the sleeve 28 can be provided as a constant between various products, since similar length and width trays can be used across the board of product choices, however, the height or depth of trays can vary depending on the food item packaged therein. Therefore, the height of the sleeve 28 can vary depending on the product packaged and can be from about 2 inches to about 3 inches. In one aspect, where a cracker snack is packaged, the container 10 can have a sleeve 28 height of about 2.7 inches. In another aspect, where a pizza snack is packaged, the container 100 can have a sleeve 28 height of about 2.9 inches.
  • When the sleeve 28 is placed around the trays, about less than half of the top tray 12, 121, or 212 remains visible and uncovered. Thus, less than about 50% of the uppermost surface 30 and compartments of the top tray 12, 121, or 212 remain visible and uncovered upon application of the sleeve 28. Where the top tray 12 has six compartments, some of the compartments 20 a and 20 b may be completely covered by the sleeve 28 and thus are not visible. Where the top tray 121 or 212 has two or three compartments, a portion of each compartment can remain visible and uncovered upon application of the sleeve 28. In one aspect, about 42% of the top tray 12 can remain visible and uncovered after the sleeve 28 is placed around the container.
  • The food container 10 or 100 described herein may be used to package any variety of ready to eat foods that may or may not require further minimal assembly of the food items before consuming. Ready to eat food varieties may include pizza snacks, cracker snacks, desserts, lunch kits, sandwich kits, meal kits, pasta kits, snack mixes, and other food varieties. The food items packaged together in the food container 10 or 100 are typically associated food products depending upon the ready to eat food that is being sold. For instance, if a pizza product is being sold in the food container 100, then at a minimum, food items that are typical for a pizza can be included in the container 100, such as tomato sauce, cheese and a meat topping.
  • The top tray 12, 121 or 212 can comprise any number of various food items that are directly filled into their respective compartments and sealed with the flexible film 16 in a MAP environment, with no additional packaging and no prepackaging of the food items required. Food items packaged in the top tray 12, 121 or 212 may comprise deli meats, deli cheeses, cheese shreds, meat, bread, pizza crust, crackers, any farinaceous food product, vegetables, fruits, and any other food item that may have a shelf-life packaging requirement and may require hermetic and/or gas-flushed packaging.
  • In one aspect, the food container 10 may comprise a cracker snack that includes crackers, meat and cheese in the top tray 12. For instance, meat slices 90 may be stored and stacked upon one another in the first pair of compartments 18 a and 18 b and cheese slices 92 may be stored and stacked in the last pair of compartments 22 a and 22 b. The crackers 94 may be stored and stacked in the middle pair of compartments 20 a and 20 b. The food items may be cut to any shape or thickness such that the food items are shaped to fit in their respective compartment and are not taller than the upper surface 30 of the top tray 12 when the food items are stacked upon one another. In the aspect shown in FIG. 6, the meat slices 90 may be cut to a circular shape and placed on the raised bottom portion 26 of the compartments 18 a and 18 b such that the upper surface of the meat slices 90 can be positioned relatively flush with the opening of the compartment adjacent the upper surface 30 of the top tray 12 and at a similar height to the cheese 92 and crackers 94. The cheese slices 92 can be cut into rectangular shapes and the cracker 94 may be circular in shape. However, any shape may be provided as long as the food item can fit into its compartment.
  • In another aspect, the food container 100 may comprise a meat pizza snack. For instance, a bread or crust product 108 may be stored in the circular shaped compartment 102 with the toppings stored in the other adjacent compartments. In the embodiment shown in FIG. 12, the meat product 110 may comprise pepperoni slices stored and stacked in one compartment 106 and cheese shreds 112 stored in an adjacent compartment 104. In yet another aspect, the food container may comprise a cheese pizza snack with only two compartments in the top tray 212, one circular compartment 202 for the bread or crust product 108 and another compartment 204 for the cheese shreds 112. The pizza sauce used in both pizza snack products can be prepackaged and stored in the bottom tray 14 or 141.
  • The bottom tray 14 or 141 can comprise any number of different prepackaged food items and non-food items that do not require a MAP environment. The bottom tray 14 or 141 may contain a drink item, a dessert item, a dessert cup, an apple sauce, condiment packets, a yogurt, a pizza sauce pouch, an eating utensil, a napkin, a cup, a bag of chips, a bag of crackers, any other type of prepackaged food item that does not have any special packaging requirements that impact its shelf life, or any other type of non-food item that would be relevant to a ready to eat food container.
  • In the aspect shown in FIG. 6, the bottom tray 14 can contain a bottle of water, a prepackaged apple sauce, a prepackaged dessert bar and a spoon. In the aspect shown in FIG. 12, the bottom tray 141 can contain a bottle of water, a prepackaged pouch of pizza sauce and a prepackaged dessert item, such as cookies. However, the bottom tray 14 or 141 is not limited to the combinations disclosed herein and any number of food and non-food item combinations may be provided within the bottom tray 14 or 141.
  • Three different top tray 12, 121, and 212 embodiments were disclosed where any top tray design is insertable into any bottom tray 14 or 141 design, such that the top and bottom tray designs can be mixed and matched. Additionally, other variations on the top tray and associated compartments can be provided such as different arrangements or orientations on the two or more compartment designs disclosed herein, and so forth.
  • The food package or containers 10 or 100 disclosed herein can contain various ready to eat food kits or packages that can be assembled by the consumer prior to eating. The food package 10 or 100 can first be opened to expose the food items stored therein. To open the food package, the consumer can first remove the sleeve 28, if one is present, by grasping at the pull tab 78 and separating the sleeve along its tear strip 76 to allow it to be removed from around the top tray 12, 121 or 212 and the bottom tray 14 or 141. Next, the top tray 12, 121 or 212 can be removed from the bottom tray 14 or 141 by grasping the top tray 12, 121 or 212 at its corner tab extension 60 and pulling up while separating it from the bottom tray 14 or 141. The bottom tray tab extension 74 can also be grasped and pulled in the opposite direction to enact a separation of the top and bottom trays. Once the trays are separated, the bottom tray interior compartment 24 is exposed and the prepackaged food items and/or non-food items are accessible.
  • The flexible film 16 can then be removed from the top tray 12, 121 or 212 by peeling it away from the top tray peripheral flange 54, 154, or 254, respectively, to expose the food compartments therein. The food items that are packaged within the food compartments of the top tray are then exposed and can be removed from the compartments. The consumer can then assemble the ready to eat food product by removing its component food parts from the compartments and assembling them into the final food product. The bottom tray can contain food items that are associated with the final food product and can compliment the final food product.
  • From the foregoing, it will be appreciated a multiple-atmosphere, nested food container is provided that allows for packaging various food products together having different shelf lives and having improved product visibility, and methods of removal and assembly of the food product thereof. However, numerous modifications and variations could be made thereto by those skilled in the art without departing from the scope of the food container and method set forth in the claims. Therefore, the disclosure is not limited to the aspects and embodiments described hereinabove, or to any particular embodiments. Various modifications to the food container and the method of removal and assembly of the food product could be made which can result in substantially the same food container and method of removal and assembly.

Claims (20)

  1. 1. A multi-atmosphere, nested food container containing a plurality of individual food items having differing shelf-lives, the food container comprising:
    a transparent, thermoformed bottom tray having a bottom wall, a peripheral side wall extending upwardly from the bottom wall and having an uppermost peripheral rim surrounding an open end opposite the bottom wall, the side wall and bottom wall defining an interior containing prepackaged food items in a non-modified atmosphere;
    an opaque, thermoformed top tray having an uppermost generally planar flange surrounding a plurality of openings and surrounding a periphery of the tray, the openings corresponding to separate compartments each having a depending sidewall and a bottom wall defining an interior for containing discrete, unpackaged perishable food items directly therein and filled with a modified atmosphere gas other than air, the top tray insertable into the bottom tray in an upright position such that the top tray nests inside a portion of an interior of the bottom tray with the portion of the flange surrouding the periphery of the top tray resting on the peripheral rim surrounding the opening of the bottom tray; and
    a transparent common, air impermeable flexible film affixed to a portion of the flange surrounding the periphery of the top tray such that the interiors of the separate compartments are each visible through the flexible film and hermetically sealing each of the compartments.
  2. 2. The food container according to claim 1, wherein the top tray and the bottom tray are both made from a rigid material.
  3. 3. The food container according to claim 1, wherein the top tray is made from an oxygen barrier material and the bottom tray is made from a non-oxygen barrier material.
  4. 4. The food container according to claim 1, wherein the gas is about 70% to about 85% nitrogen.
  5. 5. The food container according to claim 4, wherein the gas is about 75% nitrogen with the balance carbon dioxide.
  6. 6. The food container according to claim 4, wherein the top tray has an oxygen transmission rate of about 0.2 to about 0.4 cc/100 in2/24 h at a temperature of about 73° F.
  7. 7. The food container according to claim 1, wherein a sleeve extends around the top and bottom trays to hold the trays together against unintentional separation until removal of the sleeve.
  8. 8. The food container according to claim 7, wherein a portion of each of the compartments remains visible and uncovered upon application of the sleeve.
  9. 9. The food container according to claim 7, wherein about less than 50% of an uppermost surface of the top tray remains visible and uncovered upon application of the sleeve.
  10. 10. The food container according to claim 7, wherein the sleeve is not transparent.
  11. 11. The food container according to claim 1, wherein the top tray has at least two or three compartments.
  12. 12. The food container according to claim 11, wherein at least one of the compartments has a generally circular side.
  13. 13. The food container according to claim 1, wherein the top tray has at least six compartments.
  14. 14. The food container according to claim 13, wherein the at least six compartments are all generally rectangular.
  15. 15. The food container according to claim 13, wherein at least two of the six compartments have a depressed common sidewall to allow for inserting a finger or other removal tool therein.
  16. 16. The food container according to claim 13, wherein the at least six compartments are generally the same size.
  17. 17. The food container according to claim 1, wherein the bottom wall of at least one compartment in the top tray has a raised portion for supporting food thereon above a bottommost portion of the bottom wall.
  18. 18. The food container according to claim 1, wherein at least one of the compartments has a recess or notch for inserting a finger or other removal tool therein to provide for easier removal of the food item.
  19. 19. The method of assembling a ready-to-eat food from a plurality of individual food items having differing shelf-lives, the steps comprising:
    providing a multi-atmosphere, nested food package having an opaque, thermoformed top tray having an uppermost generally planar flange surrounding a plurality of openings and surrounding a periphery of the tray, the openings corresponding to separate compartments each having a depending sidewall and a bottom wall defining an interior, the top tray sealed with a transparent common, air impermeable flexible film affixed to a portion of the flange surrounding the periphery of the top tray, such that the interiors of the separate compartments are each visible through the flexible film and hermetically sealing each of the compartments, the top tray insertable into a transparent, thermoformed bottom tray in an upright position such that the top tray nests inside a portion of an interior of the bottom tray, the bottom tray having a bottom wall, a peripheral sidewall extending upwardly from the bottom wall and having an uppermost peripheral rim surrounding an open end opposite the bottom wall, the sidewall and bottom wall defining an interior compartment, with the portion of the flange surrounding the periphery of the top tray resting on the peripheral rim surrounding the opening of the bottom tray;
    removing the flexible film from the portion of the flange surrounding the periphery of the top tray to expose discrete, unpackaged perishable food items stored directly in the interior of compartments therein and containing a modified atmosphere other than air;
    removing the top tray from the bottom tray to expose the interior compartment of the bottom tray filled with prepackaged food items in a non-modified atmosphere; and
    assembling the ready-to-eat food from the plurality of individual food items in the top tray compartments.
  20. 20. The method according to claim 19, further comprising the step of removing an outer sleeve that extends around the top and bottom trays to hold the trays together against unintentional separation until removal of the sleeve.
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